How 10,000 Daily Steps Can Outpace the Risk of Sedentary Death

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Walking up to 10,000 steps a day can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and death, even with a sedentary lifestyle.

In a time when a sedentary lifestyle has become the norm, a study from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre confirms that the simple act of walking an average of 10,000 steps a day can reduce the risk of death by 39 percent and cardiovascular disease by 21 percent, regardless of time spent sedentary.

This research was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Involving over 72,000 individuals, the study stands out as the first of its kind to objectively measure, through wrist-worn wearables, the impact of daily steps on offsetting the dangers of prolonged sitting and inactivity.

While it is not the first study to show the association between greater step counts, and separate studies have also linked high levels of sedentary behaviour with increased risks of cardiovascular disease and death, in a world where desk jobs and digital entertainment chain us to our seats, the research still serves as a call to action: the power to change our health destiny is quite literally at our feet.

Lead author and research fellow at the Charles Perkins Centre, Matthew Ahmadi, emphasized that while increasing daily steps is beneficial, it is not a substitute for reducing prolonged sitting.

“This is by no means a get out of jail card for people who are sedentary for excessive periods of time, however, it does hold an important public health message that all movement matters and that people can and should try to offset the health consequences of unavoidable sedentary time by upping their daily step count,” Mr. Ahmadi said.

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With the growth of digital wearable devices making it more convenient to track physical activity, senior author professor and director of the Mackenzie Wearables Research Hub at the Charles Perkins Centre, Emmanuel Stamatakis, said: “This growing body of physical activity research using device-based measurement provided huge opportunities for public health.”

“Step count is a tangible and easily understood measure of physical activity that can help people in the community, and indeed health professionals, accurately monitor physical activity.

“We hope this evidence will inform the first generation of device-based physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines, which should include key recommendations on daily stepping.”

Using data from the UK Biobank, the study’s participants had an average age of 61 and 58 percent were female.

Tracking physical activity over seven days, the wrist-worn devices provided insights into each participant’s daily step count and the amount of time they spent in sedentary states, such as sitting or lying down while awake.

The research team also monitored the participants’ health outcomes by examining hospital records and death registries over time.

The results found the average number of steps taken daily by the study subjects was 6,222, with the bottom 5 percent walking approximately 2,200 steps each day. This lower step count served as a baseline for evaluating the effects of increased physical activity on mortality and cardiovascular disease risks.

Participants were categorized based on their sedentary time, with those spending more than 10.5 hours per day in sedentary activities considered to have a high sedentary lifestyle, and those spending less as having a low sedentary lifestyle. The median sedentary time was recorded at 10.6 hours per day.

To ensure the accuracy of their findings, the researchers adjusted for various potential biases, including the exclusion of individuals with pre-existing health conditions, those who were underweight, or had experienced a health event within the first two years of the study. They also considered factors like age, gender, ethnicity, education level, smoking habits, alcohol intake, dietary patterns, and family history of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

After an average follow-up period of 6.9 years, there were 1,633 deaths and 6,190 cardiovascular disease incidents among the participants.

Accounting for other possible influences, the study determined that the ideal daily step count to reduce mortality and cardiovascular disease risk ranged from 9,000 to 10,000 steps.

For both outcomes, half of the health advantage was realized with a daily step count ranging from 4,000 to 4,500 steps.

The University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre reports that the study had its limitations, adding that while the study is observational and cannot determine a direct cause-and-effect relationship, despite the substantial sample size and extended follow-up period minimizing bias, the researchers recognize that unaccounted factors might still influence the outcomes.

Nevertheless, the study underscores the health benefits of increasing daily steps.

“Any amount of daily steps above the referent 2,200 steps/day was associated with lower mortality and incident cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, for low and high sedentary time,” the authors concluded.

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